Will becoming a Christian make me a ‘better’ person?

I’ve always resented the assumption that people of faith have a more finely tuned moral compass than atheists. Even though I don’t consider myself to be card carrying, going to meetings, die-hard atheist anymore, I was once a particularly passionate member of that camp and I still find myself getting a bit offended on their behalf (which would probably irritate them and make them feel patronised, now I think of it).

I always knew I was a good person. I was nice (ish) to (most) people. I gave money to charity and I did volunteer work. I saw myself as just as much a citizen as those around me. Actually, I felt much more engaged politically and socially than most other people that I compared myself to. I’ve practically been an activist at various stages of my life, for goodness sake. That’s pretty bloody moral.

Then, recently, I was looking over some old posts at Conversion Diary, a blog that I’ve been following (and often disagreeing with) for several years. (I’ve just spent 20 minutes trying to find the exact quote, and it’s turning into a whole new form of procrastination so I will have to paraphrase). Basically she said that before she became a Catholic, she did her fair share of generous and selfless acts. She volunteered and gave to charity, but all of this was on her terms. It was an addendum to her life; if she had time, then she fitted in a spot of philanthropy.

Photo: Tony the Misfit

And seeing as it was an optional extra, what ever she was able to give of herself was enough.

After her conversion, however, giving became a fundamental part of her life. Helping others wasn’t something that she did, but rather it was part of who she was.

Now, for me, that’s huge.

Religion has such power to be a force for good. The world is in a sad state, and most people seem too wrapped up in their own mortgages and garden maintenence to care. Most people are good and pleasant people. They never do anything deliberately evil, but rather they just don’t feel any ownership of what is happening in the world; they feel no imperative to fix anything because it doesn’t directly affect them. (I consider myself to be in this group; I’m not passing the buck. I had to stop reading Peter Singer’s ‘The Life You Can Save’ because of the life changing ramifications that the acceptance of it’s message would entail).

But if there is a whole group of people who feel that they must do something because it is their moral and ethical duty, and who aren’t going to back out of a volunteer job because things get messy and real, then surely that alone is worth the price of admission.

Someone quite close to me has a tendency to say that people should be good because they want to be good, not because they want a ticket to heaven. It shouldn’t be about getting anything back, he says. It should be based on purely altruistic motives.

Which is all well and good, but at the end of the day, who is more useful to the downtrodden of our world; the person who fits in occasional good deeds between lunch dates, or the person who commits their life to helping the downtrodden, because they know that God demands it of them?.

Religion as a force for good. I like the sound of that.

20 thoughts on “Will becoming a Christian make me a ‘better’ person?

  1. You have so many good thoughts, friend. I am a Christian, but I love reading your blog for many reasons. You question things that some of us Christians take for granted, yet you are open-minded and thoughtful, and try to see both sides of the picture. I wish there were more people like you!

    Just as a side note, good works are NOT a ticket to heaven. Being familiar with the Christian camp as you are, you probably are already aware that most Christians do not believe that’s the teaching of the Bible. Jesus Christ and a faith in His work on the cross is the only ticket to heaven. We pursue good works, not to make us more acceptable in the sight of God, but because as Christians, we find it our calling and obligation to pursue holiness and righteousness. And living a moral life reaps its own rewards, as you mentioned in your post.

    Keep asking, keep searching, keep writing. I find your journey very fascinating. I’m here if you have questions about the Christian faith.

  2. Thank you much for your thoughts, and kind words. I feel the need to pull everything apart and analyze it from my own perspective. At first,I worried that this may be disrespectful, but the more I contemplate it, the more I think that this is the way that I’m supposed to do it. God must know how my mind works, and wants to meet me in that place.
    Peace
    Eva

  3. I know that when I was growing up as a nearly fundamentalist Christian and studying different philosophies, religions and worldviews, I definitely believed that atheists could do very good and moral things and were capable of being generally moral people. What confused me was the why. I couldn’t figure out why and atheist would want to be anything but selfish. I have had more thoughts on that over the yeas. Could that be what most religious people mean?

    • That’s a really interesting point, Bill. Why would an atheist be good? I suppose my first thought is that there is a biological imperative to help everyone else in the clan/ tribe survive. Altruism has knock off benefits for your own survival.
      And then, that it is just more pleasant to live in a society where people get along with each other; where you don’t have to constantly be on your guard. So, people have naturally made a society in which these things come to fruition. They are good because it’s more pleasant when people get along with each other.
      Maybe?

      Eva

  4. I just found your blog via (in)courage.me and I have to say, I’m intrigued.

    A little bit of history: I grew up in a very strict Christian home, went on to a Baptist university, and eventually fell far away from my Christian roots until several years ago.

    Since that time, I have suffered a severe injury that resulted in my developing a rare disease. I can freely say that I feel happier now, more free, than I did when I was “whole” but didn’t have a relationship of faith.

    Personally, I have backed away from all churches that offer their own “version” of what one must do to be saved/born again/whatever their particular brand wishes to call it. Instead, I have developed my own personal faith, between God and me alone, and I worship in a non-denominational church that concentrates on community rather than legality.

    Then again, I don’t see myself as religious. I see myself as Christian, meaning a follower of Christ.

    • Hi there Shari,
      First, I’m looking forwards to exploring your blog!

      Certainly, the groups and people that I am finding myself being drawn to at the moment sound very much like what you are talking about. I think that the concept of ‘a relationship of faith’ is really important.
      Thanks,
      Eva x

  5. Your post reminded me of a quote, which, by the way, I have had in my blog draft folder for like 6 months now . . . I keep intending to write a post on . . . well, anyway, the quote is “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” —Mahatma Gandhi.
    I also love Shari’s comment, above. People love to complicate things. It’s not complicated at all, really: It’s all about the relationship. Or, as one of my favorite bloggers put it: It’s Jesus. Not Jesus with bag of extra crap.

  6. You know, at least for me, I just have to break it down. At the very core, I am a Christ follower. Period. Sure, I worship with others, but ultimately, I’m simply a Christ follower.

    IMO the problem begins when people let man-made opinions get in the way.

  7. Hi, found this from John Shore’s blog. Finding your posts interesting.

    On this topic in particular, I’ve come to really believe that morality must be internalized – that is, that it shouldn’t matter what religious beliefs you have or don’t, that one’s ethics should not be dependent upon dogma – they have to become deeply ingrained within a person. I’ve been a Christian for a long time (though I’ve not been to church in half a decade) – so I don’t know if it’s my “Christian values” that are ingrained me, or if it is “just good brain wiring” or what. I do know that some of my thoughts on morality have *changed dramatically* over the years – some things that were dependent upon dogma have given way to an internal sense of justice. (I found Mr. Shore’s blog, for instance, from a news site and got to reading because I really liked the confirmation it had of my feelings that certain Christian dogmas were unfair to certain segments of our society – but that it didn’t make one not-a-Christian to think that).

    Something dramatic happened to me fairly recently (back in June) to really define for me this “internal sense of right.” In fact, I have the amazing true story on my blog (in among my opinion-rants and original fiction writing). I found myself in a situation whereby I had to keep a panicked horse off a busy highway. Yeah, weird situation – the details of how I got into that situation are on that post on my blog. http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-watched-something-die-tonight.html What I didn’t elaborate upon in the blog was how, at the time, I was going through a period of doubt, so when flailing hooves were coming my way, I was thinking “If I get trampled and killed, maybe I’ll go to Heaven, but maybe there’s no Heaven to go to – maybe just the oblivion that I fear. *I’m going to do the right thing anyway because it is RIGHT!* ” I just grit up and decided that I wasn’t running away, that I was going to do everything in my power to keep that animal from getting hit by a car (protecting both it and drivers, as horses are big), no matter if I got killed trying, no matter if “everything I knew was wrong” and there was no reward for me on the other side. That evening, RIGHT was all that mattered to me.

    Aferward, that was a very good feeling – not only the feeling that I do have a measure of courage after all and *can* do something insane if I really need to, but the feeling that my sense of “right” doesn’t even depend upon what I believe (about afterlife, the meaning of life, etc.) It’s become something that’s just *there* and a part of who I am.

    I’m kind of like you – I’m more on the Jesus-end, currently, but to be honest, I don’t know if it was God giving me strength when I needed it or just “good upbringing, good brainwiring, winning the genetic lottery on certain kinds of morality-chemistry.” All I know was that it was deeply internal and independant upon human dogma and that I think that’s good, the best thing.

    • I think that you’re right about having to develop an internal sense of justice. If our ‘go to’ position is one of doing the best by other people intuitively, and we rely less on dogma, then ‘the right’ decision shold flow more easily.
      Eva

  8. Not at all, especially if you look at the historical record of applied Christianity.
    Or look at right-wing Christians in the USA – which is essentially a form of collective psychosis.
    How many people would Jesus execute? (Perry)
    How many people would Jesus slice up, shoot, or bomb?

    Applied Christian politics 101.

    One stark image http://www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel13.html

    Images & words http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/cruelty.html

    http://www.logosjournal.com/hammer_kellner note the unspeakably vile sado-masochistic snuff/splatter film being reviewed here.

    Christian America (the supposedly most “religious” of countries) as the worlds largest maker, seller, owner and USER of weapons of all kinds, especially WMD’s.

  9. Buddhists are atheists. They have no “theos” or deity but compassion is their highest good.
    Peter Singers book is one that you mentioned and I’m currently reading and hes an atheist.
    I’m also reading Tolstoys The Law of love and the law of violence which is very critical of churches but from a Christian perspective.

    Theres no direct, easy correllation between what we think is metaphysical reality and how we ought to live. Youd think there should be but the crusades prove otherwise. And is it really sustainable to believe something for pragmatic reasons anyway.

    Why not just do more good and adopt the practices rather than the beliefs that help?

  10. Interesting thoughts Tony, but does just doing good really improve enlightment or spirituality. IF the goal is just more good, then good should be the transcendant goal. My understanding is that good isnt the goal with buddhism or frankly any spiritual journey. The goal is continued growth. Again thats just my opinion. I completely agree that the word christianity has hurt more people than helped. However, to generalize the crusades, the inquisition, Waco TX, or Jim Jones to characterize all followers of Jesus is not a real sound or thought out response. There is a huge difference between spirituality and religion and even between spiritual journey and religious ritualization or tradition. Critiquing church from either the inside or outside is easy (see Tolstoy or Lewis), but measuring its effects both pro and con on a connection with a metaphysical reality is where the journey should remain. Faking that journey is like painting a turd. It might look good, but it is still a turd on the inside. The true path to enlightment, Jesus, Spirit of the Universe, Allah, whatever is an internal shift that creates an outside movement.

  11. I’m not so sure Dr T. I have begun to suspect that the emphasis on our own spiritual growth is an accommodation of Buddhism by people who really think its always about them. I haven’t read a lot of the sutras tho but it seems (like Jesus own words) there’s almost always an outward doing focus to the instruction not an inward looking gaze.
    Perhaps we make too much of our own metaphysical beliefs, wasting time on them when we already know our values. We already know what compassion, or cruelty is.
    I just finished John Pipers “God is the Gospel” and that is a perfect example of theological hair splitting and yoke building with no discernible affect (to be fair its written against a particular issue I don’t care for either – prosperity theology). Whereas Tolstoy treats the gospel about how we act. Much more challenging.

    I’m not saying to “fake it” – pretending to love people when You dont. Sure cultivate the love. But love is not a feeling its a series of choices, so make the choices. Faking love is just sitting on your ass saying “gee I feel sad for the poor”

    To me faking it would also be putting on the garb of a spiritual tradition You don’t actually believe in. More importantly its just unnecessary and a little self indulgent.

    ps. I don’t mean to suggest the crusades characterise Christianity, anymore than anti-slavery did or early feminism (both Christian movements). Just showing that ones metaphysics are not direct guides to behaviour.

  12. well then I agree with you. I am not a huge fan of John Piper nor prosperity theology. nor transactional theology which is about the same thing. I think the garb of spiritual tradition is wht I would call religion. The tradition of rites and rituals is the construct that can help people, but for many is distracting from that internal shift. Then the journey becomes doing rather than being or works rahter than faith. It becomes brain instead of heart.
    The point is that to be a spiritual being or to embark on a metaphysical voyage takes a conection or unity of heart and mind, FAith and action, brain and heart. When something gets in between heart and head it ends up insincere or ‘fake’.

  13. Jesus is my Savior, not my religion.

    Good works mean nothing unless they are done for good itself. Once you start expecting things (recognition) from your works you are no longer doing for the the good itself.

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